Friday, 30 December 2016
Welcome once again to this most glamorous and esteemed of events. It's the definitive epilogue to a year gone by, considered by some to be greater than Spiderman, Superman and Space Ghost combined. It is of course The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. It's The Debbie Awards: the year ends when we say it does.
Congratulations, you made it through 2016. This is not a year that will be missed by many, and with good reason. I've made my own feelings perfectly clear as to where things are headed, and it's not good. But for one night we will forget about all that and take a moment to appreciate the good things in this world, and indeed there is still much to be excited about. For all its ills, 2016 has been another year of great cultural achievement, and tonight we will look back on the best examples.
So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2016 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:
2016 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Black Mirror
The easiest Debbie to award this year. Stranger Things has won critical acclaim from all corners for its nostalgic tribute to the 1980s and the movies that filled the formative years of so many of today's generation. But the inherent sense of fun, the quality of writing, and excellence in its production has universal appeal, and that makes this an obvious winner for the best TV of 2016.
Picking a runner up, however, was a very tricky decision, and honourable mentions must be given to the second season of Mr Robot, as well as the wonderful Hulu miniseries 11.22.63, both of which missed out on my top three. Ultimately the closest competitor for this award has to be Netflix's spellbinding The Crown, a show with absolutely unparalleled production values, quality in every part of its conception, from Peter Morgan as writer and creator to a cast that features big name stars in Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and John Lithgow, among many others. Excellent TV and a huge statement of the spending power and ambition of Netflix's original content team.
Following in third place is the return of Charlie Booker's excellent Black Mirror. As always, Black Mirror prides itself on inventive speculative plotlines that carefully straddle the line between real and fantastical, creating situations that boast some of the finest writing on TV today, and are all the more terrifying for their believability.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Westworld
We're seeing this a lot lately, the best shows of each year often being newcomers. Whether it's the increasing prominence of the miniseries format, the success of the new-media video streaming networks, or simply the freshness of their ideas, for the second year running we have a double winner of best TV show and best new TV show, this year in Stranger Things.
The Crown, naturally, also makes the top 3 here, along with another newcomer, HBO's newest mega-hit, Westworld. It's been a long time in production, but from the stellar cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and many other hugely acclaimed actors, to the writing of the award winning Jonathan Nolan, the first season of Westworld was well worth the wait. The pace may drag in certain places, and certain side stories seem a bit inconsistent, but the concept and production are so excellent, and the surprising crescendo of its finale so masterful, that one can't help but be won over. But most significant, Westworld scratches a specific itch in mysterious, addictive sci-fi that hasn't been seen arguably since Lost aired all those years ago. Many shows have tried to hit that sweet spot, but Westworld is the first that has succeeded.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Winner: La La Land
Runner Up: Sing Street, Weiner
A richly deserved win this year for La La Land, the great passion project of Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Riding high on the success of his previous film, Chazelle had the freedom to pursue his audacious vision, a modern broadway musical, a tribute to the artistic process, the sting of ambition, and life in Hollywood. La La Land is a storming success against all expectations, and the nailed on favourite to sweep awards this year.
I've picked something a bit different for the first runner up, 2016's indie darling Sing Street. Another musical of sorts, but of a very different style. Sing Street follows a group of state school children in inner-city Dublin forming a rock band in the 1980s. This is a film about all the great exuberances of youth: wanting to break out of a dead end town, win the girl, and the importance of brotherhood. A treat of a film, and a very lovely surprise to see this pick up a well deserved Golden Globe nomination.
And if that wasn't different enough, just you wait! Weiner is the documentary about the fall of rising political star Anthony Weiner. A tale of hubris, addiction, and pure self destruction. The documentary itself is rendered with great style in an entertaining production, but the real meat is in the behind-the-scenes scrutiny of the mind of Weiner; what made him simultaneously a great politician and a flawed person. Weiner's fall is compelling not so much for the scandal itself so much as the sheer inconceivability as to why someone with seemingly the world at their finger tips could screw up, not once, not twice, but repeatedly, and still to this day. An astonishing character piece.
4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year
Winner: John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
Runner Up: Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
At first I was tempted to award this Debbie to our runner up, but the troubling events of the past 12 months have made clear now more than ever just how important a figure John Oliver is in the world today. His show is remarkable not just for being hilarious, but for his tackling of the major issues of the day, often delving into the sorts of topics that mainstream journalists and other talkshow hosts won't touch with a 10 foot pole. Essential, influential television.
But a worthy runner up this year is Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. 20 years after Seinfeld, here at last is the ultimate 'show about nothing'. A series of laid back interviews with other funny people, actors, comedians, politicians alike, often insightful, always highly watchable. Perhaps most notable for the calibre of interviewee, which often includes some of the legendary names of the industry, and for one glorious episode extends its purview to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
5. The Debbie for Hollywood Rising Star of the Year
Winner: Adam Driver
Runner Up: Idris Elba
This is always a fun one to pick. There's no obvious choice as there has been in the past few years, but it's fair to say that 2016 has been a particularly strong year for Adam Driver. Just a year or so ago he was the star of some silly TV show, being taunted as "a joke" in leaked emails from certain Sony producers. Now he's the star of Star Wars, and in 2016 he finds himself starring in a Jim Jarmusch movie, as well as the new Martin Scorsese film. Nominations for various awards are likely to follow soon, as surely enough Driver is becoming seen not just as a serious actor, but a bankable one.
Another good shout would be Idris Elba, a man who has forayed into films as of late, but is perhaps still best known for his exploits on TV. Now, however, he is becoming recognised as a bona fide film Star Trek film, as well as a slew of huge Disney films, including Zootopia, Finding Dory, and most notably The Jungle Book. His $5 billion or so grossed may in fact be a record for a single year. A good year for sure, and hopefully some more meaty roles to follow in the future.
Music & Theatre
6. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
Runner Up: Groundhog Day
A return to greatness for the Donmar Warehouse with this year's excellent production of Elegy. Written by Nick Payne, of Constellations fame, the subject matter is both timely and uniquely insightful, with an emotional quandary that sticks with you long after the final curtain. A highly memorable production.
Also worthy of note is the new Groundhog Day musical. Writer Tim Minchin, of Matilda fame, continues to go from strength to strength with a beguilingly inventive new stage production of something that few would ever have imagined would make a good musical. Yet this is every bit as solid a production as you are likely to find on the London stage this year, with the original source material's depths brought to life in new and evocative ways.
7. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Wildflower - The Avalanches
Runner Up: Love & Hate - Michael Kiwanuka
It was enough of a shock to see The Avalanches make their long rumoured comeback after 15 years, but surely no one expected such a strong return. Wildflower was a stormer of an album, a critical and commercial success, and a testament to the artists' strength of vision and will to push this thing through over such a long, drawn out battle. From the gorgeous psychedelia of Colours, to the more Beatles-infused Harmony, or maybe you prefer something a bit folksier like Saturday Night Inside Out; this is an album with great individual songs that gel together into a mesmerising celebration of different influences and musical eras. Easily the essential album of the year.
Honourable mention to Love & Hate, the sophomore album for London songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. If his debut four years ago was the toast of the UK music scene, the follow up, sublimely produced by superstar producer Dangermouse, will cement his name among the royalty of popular music. Opening track Cold Little Heart is an epic journey, but there's more classic understated folk here in I'll Never Love, while title track Love & Hate and Father's Child are emotionally wrought masterpieces. A Mercury Prize contender, but more importantly, a Debbie Award runner up. Fantastic album.
8. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Do Hollywood - The Lemon Twigs
Runner Up: Chaleur Humaine - Christine and the Queens
In a year with only a handful of notable debuts, our pick of the bunch goes to The Lemon Twigs, the brother-brother duo from Long Island, New York, who peddle in low-fi pop, heavy on the retro influences. Their debut album, Do Hollywood, wears these Beatles/Beach Boys/Wings influences so clearly that for every note the listener might well think they were listening to an authentic recording from the 1960s, right down to the amps and hardware used. Some might say it sticks too closely to the old masters, but ultimately there's no denying the quality of the songs, key tracks being Baby, Baby, How Lucky Am I? and These Words, but really the whole album is excellent.
Also worthy of note was the English release of French band Christine and the Queens' debut album Chaleur Humaine. Long time readers will recognise this as one of our picks for 2016 from the start of the year, and it pleases us to say that they did not disappoint. Definitely check out Tilted and Jonathan, but there's plenty to like on the album. A strong success then, both critically and commercially, and I look forward to seeing what they produce in the future.
9. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: Burn the Witch - Radiohead
Runners Up: Cold Little Heart - Michael Kiwanuka, Odyssey of the Streets - Gypsy & The Cat
Always a tough category, but with the long-awaited return of Radiohead, they were always going to be in with a shout. The clear standout is the brilliant new single Burn the Witch, a manic whirlwind of strings and falsetto that's every bit as bold as the very best the band have ever produced. A mesmerising descent into madness.
Going in a different direction for our first runner up is Cold Little Heart, the opening track of Michael Kiwanuka's excellent new album. A 3 part journey stretching over 10 minutes in the mould of a Pink Floyd epic, employing expansive strings and intimate soul choirs, an extended intro, and Kiwanuka's vocals at their very finest. There are many great songs on this album, but perhaps none as stunningly beautiful as this one.
Lastly, and along the same vein is Odyssey of the Streets by Gypsy and the Cat. The Australian duo are typically known more for their catchy, traditional pop songs, but Odyssey sees them in a dizzying, orchestral piece over three movements that might just be their most impressive work yet.
10. The Debbie for Live Performance of the Year
Coldplay are past their best as a band, there's little question of that. The new albums are decent, sure, but not a patch of their old work. Despite that, they still put on a hell of a live show. 2016's tour had everything from confetti, huge glowing inflatable balls, fireworks, and perhaps most ingeniously, light up wristbands for each audience member that connect wirelessly and flash in different colours in time with the music. In a 90,000 seater stadium like Wembley the result is a dazzling array of colours and energy. An unforgettable experience.
Videogames & Technology
11. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Driverless cars
It's been coming for a long time, but finally Driverless cars are here. From early attempts with Tesla's autopilot mode, to the Google car and now more fully functional models in production among the industry's major parties, the technology is here and has been tested. Over the next few years driverless technology will be rolled out in major cities all over the world. This is a world changing technology, from the impact on public transport and taxi services, to big businesses like Uber which will certainly move away from human drivers, and presumably pass the savings on to the consumer. Most important of all though is the effect this will have on road safety, removing human error, which is by far the most common cause of road accidents. It's not far fetched to believe that in 50 years time dense city centres will only allow driverless cars.
12. The Debbie for Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Year
Winner: First ever detection of gravitational waves
When the LIGO observatory announced the first ever recording of gravitational waves in February of this year, it made world headlines for a few days and then faded away. Most people probably didn't even realise the significance of the story, just that it was some kind of a breakthrough. This is a big deal, this is like the discovery of the camera or the microphone. Just as a camera records light, and a microphone records sound, the ability to record gravitational waves gives us an entirely new way to observe the universe around us, a new sense. I can't wait to see what this entirely new form of perception teaches us.
13. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Stardew Valley
Runners Up: XCOM 2, Final Fantasy XV
It's been a year full of excellent videogames, and as such this was arguably the most difficult Debbie to award for 2016. Let's begin with an honourable mention for Starbound, Battlefield 1, and Stellaris, all excellent games that any other year would have made the top 3. But in this year's packed field they did not make the cut.
So let's get to it. The award of the 2016 Debbie for videogame of the year goes to Stardew Valley, giving us an indie winner for the second year running. Stardew will be familiar for anyone who has ever played the Harvest Moon series; players build a farm, grow crops, tend animals, sell their produce, and make friends with the locals. But this is much more than simply a Harvest Moon clone, with a depth of world building, character development and endless charm that puts even its illustrious inspiration to shame. Delving into this game world feels almost like a vacation, peaceful and relaxing in a way that few games have ever been. Add to that a robust quest system, a surprising amount of backstory, secrets and other surprises, and Stardew is simply a joy.
In stark contrast, our two runners up are some very high quality, big budget, AAA titles. First is XCOM2, the sequel to 2012's excellent reboot. XCOM2 takes the series into an entirely new area of turn-based strategy, beginning with the premise that the player in fact lost the previous XCOM game and is now in charge of the resistance movement to overthrow alien rule. It's a novel idea that adds a new dimension of clandestine tactics, and the ability to move around the battlefield in the shadows. Carefully preparing and executing a perfect ambush in XCOM2 is one of the most satisfying gaming moments one can have.
Runner up number 3 is Final Fantasy XV. The series has been on the wane for many years now, but what a comeback, finally putting right all the mistakes of FFXII and FFXIII. Open world in a way the series has never been, with a near endless amount of radiant gameplay. But the key thing here are the characters, Final Fantasy has always been about the core characters and the friendships that develop between them, and FFXV finally seems to have remembered that, with wonderful group of stars that talk and banter with one another, take selfies, and much more. At the same time an entirely new battle system, and an abundance of clever game design ensure that this feels like much more than a rehash. A beautiful game that truly understands what makes Final Fantasy great without being too stuck in the past.
14. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
The PC gaming renaissance remains in full swing. Particularly now with today's streaming capability and wireless peripherals, there is increasingly less and less reason to focus on console gaming so long as your computer is powerful enough. Steam remains the key app for gaming, a position strengthened by Steam Link and the new generation of TV-compatible Steam Boxes, but even similar competing platforms like EA's Origin are becoming usable. Bottom line: as gaming hardware becomes increasingly decentralised, the difference between one box of hardware from another becomes less distinct, and the superior kit is determined by which has the best software, which is the most customisable, and which has the access to the greatest range of games. Right now that's PC.
15. The Debbie for Company of the Year
It started off as just another fast food delivery company, but Deliveroo ended up changing the entire face of the industry in London. The master stroke was figuring out a way to deliver not just food from your typical takeaway places, but real restaurants too. While just a few years ago your delivery options in London were limited to cheap pizza and Chinese, now even the high end restaurants can be delivered right to your door. I myself have Deliveroo access to Kurobuta, Sophie's Steakhouse, Brinkley's, and many other extremely high quality places in my neighbourhood, while at my office I can get Burger & Lobster among others. It's a golden age for getting food without having to pick your lazy ass up off the couch, and I for one welcome it.
16. The Debbie for Gadget of the Year
Winner: Amazon Echo
Apple may have gotten the ball rolling with Siri and its still incubating range of Home products, while Google are hot in pursuit with the purchase of Nest, but right now Amazon look to be on the front foot when it comes to intelligent personal assistants with Alexa, the software interface of the Echo system. Like Siri, Alexa can set your reminders, bring you real time information, and respond to voice commands, but what Echo currently has above its competitors is powerful multimedia compatibility, meaning you can use the system to control all your devices, television, music, videogames, all from a single point of contact. Impressive though this kit may be, the most significant takeaway this year is the proof of concept for how such a system can work. A few years from now this will surely be commonplace, whether its through Amazon's system or one of their competitors.
17. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Luis Suarez - Barcelona
Is there a front three in all of football as impressive as Barcelona's trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez? Between the latter two in particular it's hard to choose a winner. I'm going with Suarez as The Ephemeric's player of the year. For whatever else you may think of him there really isn't a more lethal player in the world, with an astonishing 59 goals in 53 games last season and 20+ assists. Suarez showed at Liverpool that he's the sort of player that wins you games singlehandedly, and while at Barcelona he may get somewhat more overshadowed by his superstar famous teammates, he remains just as effective. He contributes as much to the team as even Messi, and is arguably the more complete player with a brute force, strength and physicality that his teammate lacks.
18. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year
Winner: Renato Sanches - Bayern Munich
Renato Sanches is shockingly talented for a 19 year old. Signed by Bayern Munich for 35 million in the summer and a part of Portugal's European Championship winning squad, Sanches plays with the polish and consistency of a more experienced player, but the swagger and panache of a young star in the making. Can play centrally or on the right, in a deep playmaking position or more advanced. High on the stamina and power. This man will be a big name for years to come, for both club and country.
19. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year
Winner: Claudio Ranieri - Leicester City
This really has to go to Claudio Ranieri after his crazy title win with Leicester City. No one in their right might would have expected the relegation-threatened club to win a league that had previously only been won by a small selection of elite clubs, but Leicester blew apart everyone's expectations and completely rewrote the rules of domestic football. It's a sporting accomplishment the likes of which will likely not be seen again for a long time, and indeed this season finds Leicester struggling in the league, but nevertheless this success will not lose its lustre any time soon.
20. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year
Winner: Leicester City
A double prize for the most remarkable achievement in modern football. Leicester City was more than just a one man success story of the manager, it was a team production with a number of players really performing well above expectation and as a unit. Certain key performers like Jamie Vardy, N'Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez are now household names and worldclass stars. It's a great story with many individual success stories, and a team which as a whole deserves great recognition.
21. The Debbie for Politician of the Year
Winner: Sadiq Khan
Through this whole Brexit mess there's little in the way of heroes or anybody escaping with even a shred of respect. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is one of the few to have enhanced their reputation during this time, becoming a unifying voice for those who feel betrayed by the decision to even hold the referendum or outraged by the Government's disingenuous conduct since the vote.
His popularity has risen so high that at one point there was even a (only half serious) petition to create an independent London with Khan as President. Khan has managed to win over a lot of his doubters in the capitol just by doing a good job as Mayor. Lord knows I didn't vote for him, and I remain hugely disillusioned by his party, but Khan's genuine, even handed approach to common sense governance is exactly the type of progressive leadership of which this country needs more. Open and inclusive, pro-business, forward thinking. The sooner we ditch the fake liberals of the Corbyn Labour party and move more towards Khan's brand of modern progressivism, the better.
22. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year
Winners: Donald Trump
Well this is an obvious one. Much has been written about Donald Trump's litany of scandals, probably-crimes, misdemeanours and various pending court cases that he has desperately been trying to settle before taking the Presidency. It's a bit like the three stooges syndrome, each of them individually is enough, but all put together prevents any single one from having an impact. So really in giving this award I can't just pick a single one. The fraud trial, breaking the Cuba embargo, Trump University, Trump Foundation embezzling funds, sexist videos, racist videos, questionable connections to dictators... all of these are well worth a Debbie, so instead I'll just give one blanket award to Donald Trump.
23. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Resisting the return of radical right wing politics
Pretty much a summary of the last two Debbies. From Brexit to Trump, to Le Pen, to the unbelievable normalisation of racism and extremism, reactionary right wing politics is making a big comeback in the developed world, and really, truly, that is something to be frightened about. The Ephemeric published a piece on this situation recently and it bears reading for anyone who needs a little background. For sure there are many crises in the world that could rightly take this award, but not one of them can be adequately dealt with if we continue to trade in our humanity for the frothing insanity of hatred and division that currently threatens to overwhelm civilised society.
24. The Debbie for Person of the Year
Winner: Vladimir Putin
As a reminder, the Debbie for Person of the Year doesn't necessarily go to someone who earns the award by doing good things, it's in recognition of influence and singular impact during a year. This year that man is without doubt Vladimir Putin.
As loathsome as his actions in world politics may be, there is no doubt that Putin has returned Russia to prominence in the world stage for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. An economy that was growing prior to the recent sanctions, increasing power projection in theatres of conflict, most prominently the Middle East. But his crowning achievement of course was his victory in the US Presidential election. America has spent decades installing puppet leaders in countries all over the world, but never has any nation succeeded in swaying the election of such a powerful rival. The leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth, now with one of his lackeys in charge of the other most powerful nation on Earth presents Putin with a level of power unparalleled in the world. Time Magazine chose to name Trump man of the year, somehow ignoring the man pulling the strings, the rightful winner of this award.
Social & Lifestyle
25. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Winner: The Sportsman
Despite having been open a couple of years now, The Sportsman is a restaurant whose star has rapidly been on the rise in just recent history, and seemingly out of nowhere has begun featuring on "best restaurant in the UK" lists all over the place. As was my duty, I decided to go under cover in order to figure out exactly what was going on here, and my word.
A tiny, nondescript pub just a few feet away from the beach on the north coast of Kent; the setting is charming enough and the pub has that old fashioned allure about it, but once you sit down and taste the food, you'll see exactly what the fuss is about. These are exquisite, Michelin star quality dishes right up there with any restaurant in the world. A delightful shock, and one that I can't wait to experience again, if only one didn't need to book several months in advance (as of 2 weeks ago their next available Saturday lunch is in April).
26. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Kona Kai
The award for good times, good dancing, and fruity cocktails with little straw umbrellas (I think, it's a bit hazy). Kona Kai has all this, and friendly service to boot, whilst not charging the customary arm and two legs that one expects from a drinking and dancing establishment in central London, much less Chelsea. The fact that it's only a stone's throw away from my flat is a bonus.
27. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
My annual shout out to The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro. Famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the white truffle martini, and now for the first time, actual snacks with which to line your stomach.
28. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Algarve, Portugal
A high tension year such as this calls for nothing more than sun, a good beach, and some quality R&R. The Algarve in Portugal has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with calm waters, gorgeous caves and rock formations, and soft golden sand. Add to that a climate which is pleasant and sunny right up until at least October, and a fantastic array of fresh local cuisine, and it makes for a difficult to beat vacation destination.
29. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Lamole di Lamole Lam'oro
The vineyards of Lamole di Lamole are a long-time favourite, despite being among the hardest to reach in Tuscany, way at the top of the hills around Greve, requiring a lengthy drive. Boy is it worth it though, and this year's pick of the lot is their esteemed Lam'oro selection. A blended Sangiovese/cabernet sauvingon wine, as with many Tuscan reds, but produced only in certain years when the conditions are suitable to produce the required complexity. Strong berry flavour with an extremely elegant finish.
30. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Guy Charlemagne, Cuvée Charlemagne
And lastly, to the champagnes. Many strong contenders, but this year I'm awarding the Debbie to Guy Charlemagne, specifically the Cuvée Charlemagne. An up and coming champagne factory, the Cuvée Charlemagne is their grand cru blanc de blancs, meaning 100% chardonnay with a crisp, dry finish. This is a fantastic champagne, finessed with delicate bubbles, like drinking a glass of stardust.
Well there you have it. 2016 will go down as a troubled year for sure, but here's to the next one being better!
Tuesday, 20 December 2016
2016 has been a bad year for social progress. Inequality is at record levels. Xenophobia and racially motivated violence are on the rise as reactionary right wing politics takes to the mainstream for the first time in 50 years. Fear continues to erode at our civil liberties and the peaceful order of modern society amid a perceived chaos of terrorism, fear, and relentless war. These appear to be dark times we live in. But the young and optimistic should take heart; things will get better.
We were already facing a great number of problems in the world; ISIS and war in the Middle East, extreme inequality, our struggling environment. But a collective dysphoria, no doubt fuelled in part by these crises, has invited an additional self-inflicted misery which promises to have grave consequences in the short term. The disastrous Brexit vote, built on ignorance and fear, threatens to break the historic peaceful union of European nations, something that had been fought hard for over centuries. Then the Trump election, an emphatic vindication of mainstream insanity and the politics of hate.
These events have been mirrored all over the globe by the rise in influence of those who represent our baser natures; a primeval level of paranoia and aggression, the de-humanising of those who are different. It's the kind of division and barbarism that until recently appeared all but dead in the civilised world. There can be no doubt that these events represent major victories for those who would seek to damage western society from the outside, but more troubling is the seeming frailty they expose in the values that hold that society together.
We have lived through an era of historic peace, prosperity, and stability. In the final decades of the 20th Century we have seen our artificial barriers begin to disappear as the world opens up for all people to travel, trade and communicate with one another. United Nations, European Union, world trade, the Internet. At the same time, racism and hatred ostensibly receded into the crevices, an archaic relic on the wane from acceptable society. Recognition of the common humanity of all people had become the norm. Certainly not some post-nationalist utopia by any means, but nations and cultures nevertheless in a state of cooperation and co-existence in a way that had never been seen, and as a result, the opportunities of the entire planet fully open for the first time.
For an entire generation this was the seeming reality we grew up with: the idea that with a new millennium approaching humanity might finally start to look past labels and arbitrary divisions, progressing into an ever greater state of unity. Now that's all been shattered, with society looking on the verge of a hard step backwards. But what we are seeing now is not the dawn of some new dark age or the end of western civilisation, it's simply a reversion to the mean.
World War II brought unprecedented horror to this world: the senseless slaughter of millions of soldiers and civilians alike, the racially motivated murder of millions more, an absolute rock bottom for human civilisation. Everything that happens invariably has a proportionate reaction, and it's now clear that what previously looked to be a historic and rapid movement towards a more united world was simply the proportionate but temporary reaction to this dark period. Unimaginable violence being pushed back against by unprecedented peace, extreme racism being pushed back against by the political correctness movement.
Racism didn't really go away, it just became so commonly abhorred and publicly unacceptable in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust that it hid away in our deepest recesses. Gradually, enough time has passed for the post-war pain to subside, and these deep-seated prejudices to start rearing their ugly heads again. That has been the foundation behind much of the recent surge in far right extremism: the use of meme culture and online echo chambers in order to create a perception of acceptance. Shareable viral images, in-jokes, and disproportionate media presence to perpetuate an idea of community, and embolden those that harbour these prejudices to embrace those beliefs openly.
So indeed, the recent global upheaval may be the match that lit the tinderbox, but ultimately what this year has shown us is that these elements have been present in our society all along, and the reason we had begun to believe they were gone is down to a post-war reaction that moved the public consensus drastically far away from the type of thinking that had led to such global horror. Now it's back, and we are faced with the reality that maybe we haven't evolved as a civilisation over the past century as much as we had wanted to believe.
But that's not to say that all this progress has been an illusion. On the contrary, despite popular hysteria there has never been a more peaceful and prosperous time to be alive. Developed nations still don't go to war with one another like they used to, globally connected institutions are still intact, if severely bruised, and we as a whole are still more connected and cooperative as a people than we have ever been. Progress may be slow, but ask the LGBT community, or anyone of an ethnic minority whether things are no better than they were fifty years ago. The tragedy for the optimistic and young among us lies in accepting that it may not in fact be our generation that realises the full potential that we have as a society, that we are simply not quite there yet.
If things appear to be taking a step backwards at the moment, then remember this fact. The progress of the late 20th Century was preceded by two world wars, the Renaissance was preceded by the Dark Ages. Progress rarely moves in a straight line, it's a series of nadirs and apexes that still nevertheless trends constantly in a positive direction. Even if the worst happens and the European Union fails, something will eventually take its place. This was the first attempt at a union, it doesn't have to be the last. Even if Trump sets social progress back fifty years, his generation will be gone, and a new voice will take over some day.
This nadir is not permanent. We may not yet be at the state of enlightenment and unity as a people that many had hoped, but we are still getting ever more rational, more peaceful and empathetic. We will get there eventually. The short term trajectory might seem erratic, but the long term trend has been clear throughout human history.